A few years ago, former Secretary of Education William Bennett wrote The Book of Virtues identifying 10 traits of character at the foundation of a moral life, values which shape the way individuals make choices: "Self-discipline, comparison, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith." Who could quarrel with such a virtuous catalog? These rank up there with the ideals of scouting, but omit explicit mention of cleanliness and reverence along with duty and honor.
Mr. Bennett's premise was that our society neglects the teaching of these values to our children, and, on balance. I think his list is a reasonable starting place. Teaching kids today about "virtues" is much better than leaving values out. But I believe we are challenged to be more than "individually virtuous" because we must coexist in society. I wonder whether we could agree that there are also some broader community values which promote a greater awareness of our INTERdependence.
In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, logotherapist Victor E. Frankl gave insights from his experience of surviving the concentration camps, and asserted that there really are only three personal virtues: "objectively, courage, and a sense of responsibility," all arising from what Dr. Frankl called "the spiritual essence" distinguishing humans from animals.
I believe that we must ask ourselves whether that spiritual essence demands that both objectively and courage, as well as the remainder of Mr. Bennett's virtues, might best be employed to further one's sense of responsibility to society. In the spirit of that balance toward awareness of the greater good, I offer the following "social values" as holistic aspirations worthy of reflection:
We choose to affirm and promote:
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
The acceptance of individuality and diversity as sources of strength and vitality.
A loving, just, and caring community which nurtures spiritual and personal growth.
The use of the democratic process in all human relationships.
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, and the ethical necessity that we do our best to act consistently with our beliefs.
But after due consideration, if we choose to teach and learn from practicing any list of virtues, values, or aspirations, how we know if we have succeeded? In a later book, The Moral Compass, Bill Bennett quotes with approval from the 19th century Unitarian patriarch Ralph Waldo Emerson: "What is Success?"
"To Laugh often and much,
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children,
To earn the appreciation of honest critics, and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
This to have succeeded."
I pray that we each might experience, teach, and model this kind of success, in living out our individual and societal values, however we express them. May it be so.
The Rev. Dan King is pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta.
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